Illinois Carjacking Trial Begins Without Defendant – Trial in Absentia

CC image Wikipedia.orgA criminal case surrounding the carjacking of a young mother began Tuesday in Cook County, despite the fact that the defendant was nowhere to be found.

Michael Buhrman, 31, was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on charges stemming from an incident in which he allegedly carjacked a vehicle in a parking garage at gunpoint.

According to the plaintiff, she was spending her work break in her car when an old man approached her to see if she needed any help.  The woman got out of the car to speak to the man, and he pulled out a handgun.

The man sped off in her vehicle, but he was stopped by police a few minutes later.  When they approached the car, they noticed that Buhrman had a handgun and a latex mask on the passenger’s seat.

It’s uncertain if Buhrman stole the idea from Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III, but prosecutors weren’t given the opportunity to ask about the mask because Buhrman failed to show up for court.

His absence was hardly unexpected though, as he hasn’t been seen since last September.  On the last day he was seen, authorities got a signal from Buhrman’s court ordered GPS anklet that someone was attempting to tamper with the device.  When authorities arrived on the scene, the only thing they found was a detached GPS bracelet.

Buhrman is being tried in absentia, meaning the court views his decision not to show up as an indication that he is waiving his right to appear.  The trial is expected to conclude within the week.

Attorney Brett Appelman comments

This sounds like something straight out of Law and Order.

When a defendant is initially being addressed by the judge, they are told “if you fail to appear we can go ahead and hold your trial without you.”  We hear this all the time, but what does it actually mean?

A criminal defendant who skips town and fails to appear at their trial can literally be tried, found guilty, and sentenced without even being in court.  It is called a “Trial in Absentia”, and they happen with some regularity.  If you fail to show up for your trial, you are assumed to have waived your right to appear, meaning that the judge will believe that you willingly decided to not show up and defend yourself.  The trial will commence without you.

In this case, the alleged car-jacker has fled and has not appeared for his trial.  His lawyers will put on his defense and try to win the trial, but having an absent defendant makes their job much harder.  A jury is not likely to look favorably upon a defendant that has run away from his own trial.

If he is found guilty, the judge will hand down a sentence, and if this defendant is ever caught he will serve that sentence, be it probation, fines, or more likely in this case, prison time.

Related source:  Chicago Tribune